Yesterday was “Lutheran Day at the Capital” where Lutherans from across the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania came together to worship, to learn, and to do advocacy with state legislators. Yesterday we focused our attention on programs designed to alleviate hunger and the state budget.
Having been on three sides of government, I had many thoughts on the experience. Three sides, you ask? Yes. One side is as a citizen. One side was working for elected officials. And the last side having worked for a lobbyist.
Advocacy isn’t the same thing as lobbying. There are certainly things about lobbying and advocacy that overlap. Both try to influence how legislators will vote. Here’s a way that I define the difference between advocacy and lobbying: who’s it about? Lobbying is about getting something for yourself or the group your represent. Advocacy is about getting something for someone else. That is a simplistic definition, but it works.
Advocacy is also an extension of faith. This is important. Faith isn’t just a private matter. Some religious folks (and some denominations) try to tell their followers that faith is only a private matter. Except it’s not. Jesus never said it was. Our faith should have a public impact. It should impact policy. I’m not arguing for a theocracy though. If your faith causes you to advocate for policies that force people to conform to your religious belief, that’s moving towards theocracy. That’s about you and what you believe and how it benefits you ultimately. That’s not advocacy according to the earlier definition – that’s lobbying, but in a bad sense. There are times when lobbying is actually quite good – especially when it not only impacts you, but also empowers others. MLK, Jr. is a great example of this. Changing the Civil Rights laws certainly was a benefit for himself, but also empowering for many others.
On the other hand, if your faith causes you to advocate for policies that empower people, you might be on to something. Again, I’m making generalizations here – there are always exceptions to such generalizations. But that isn’t reason to throw out the whole definition.
Advocacy is an act of faith. We see people doing advocacy throughout our own history.
Yesterday was a day of advocacy. Today we advocate in other ways – providing food, connecting people to housing, visiting the sick, welcoming the stranger, connecting with the outcast. Tomorrow will bring more advocacy in other ways.